After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the announcement of mobilization, hundreds of thousands fled Russia in 2022. But some have returned. How do you see your future?
After Russia’s all-out war of aggression against Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Kira first went to Georgia and then to Israel. Anna, also a Russian, went to Armenia at the same time. And Yuri left Russia in the fall of 2022. After President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization in Russia, he quickly drove to Kazakhstan.
All of Deutsche Welle’s interviewees condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, but have since returned to the Russian Federation. Their names have been changed by the editors for security reasons.
Back in Russia: “I was given a chance and took it”
Kira is 27 years old. She explains her departure to Georgia in spring 2022 as follows: “At that time, I saw it as impossible to continue to stay in Russia.” From Georgia, Kira traveled on to Israel, where she attended a university, stayed in a dormitory and received a scholarship . However, this was severely reduced in the summer and the young woman is not allowed to work in Israel.
So she applied for a job in an organization in Russia. “I want to develop professionally, I was given an opportunity and took it,” she emphasizes.
Kira returned to Russia because of her new job. However, she remains enrolled at the Israeli university. “The wounds in my soul still need to heal and I try not to travel to big cities. I feel a great resistance to what is happening in Russia and often I just want to close my eyes to it. But Israel proved to be a difficult country for me,” she says.
“It was an escape from myself”
“Armenia was an impulsive decision for me. But there I realized that it wasn’t about me wanting to be in this country, but rather an escape from myself,” says Anna about her departure from Russia in April 2022. She is 31 years old and a manager by profession in the field of marketing and could work from home. But after a few months she decided to leave Armenia again. “It’s about returning to Russia and admitting that you also share responsibility,” says Anna.
As for her decision, she adds: “I don’t want everyone to unanimously think that war is normal. Someone will walk down the street and say, ‘War is normal.’ But I’m someone who will answer, ‘No. Are you completely crazy?’” Anna admits that she is definitely tormented by fears, but at the same time emphasizes: “You shouldn’t live in fear for a long time.”
“My girlfriend practically threw me out”
Yuri, a programmer, says he didn’t panic at the start of the war and the mobilization didn’t scare him either. “But my girlfriend was very worried, couldn’t sleep properly and basically threw me out of the house,” he says, adding. “I didn’t know what to expect. But we said to each other that I could always go back, but that leaving the country might only be possible now.”
Yuri spent several months in Kazakhstan, then a few more in Kyrgyzstan. “We thought the situation would resolve soon and we wanted to wait for the second mobilization. I lived in a rented apartment with six men. But even after six months, nothing changed, except that the ruble continued to fall, the cost of living rose and some people around me went back to Russia,” recalls Yuri.
He also returned in winter. “I didn’t miss Russia. But I wanted to go home, back to my apartment,” he says. His parents, a disabled brother and his girlfriend, with whom he has been together for 13 years, also live in Russia.
At least two waves of emigration
In 2022, 500,000 to 800,000 people left Russia, according to estimates by demographers based on statistics from host countries and communications from authorities. There were two waves of emigration: immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and after the announcement of mobilization in Russia.
“Many people didn’t get to the countries they actually wanted to go to. Most have changed countries at least once. The maximum I have heard is that a young couple was in six countries in total,” says Moscow-based sociologist Lyubov Borusjak in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
According to her, many people have arrived in countries they never thought they would end up in, with virtually no documents and very little money. “Some of these people later returned to Russia, at least for a while,” said Borusjak.
According to the OutRush research team, which conducts its own surveys of Russian emigrants, 16 percent of those who left the country after February 24, 2022 returned to the Russian Federation. Two thirds of them said they had only returned temporarily.
Yuri back in Moscow: “Everyone acts as if everything is normal”
Yuri says that he and his girlfriend thought about leaving Russia for a long time, but didn’t know where to go. The couple is currently in limbo. Yuri admits: “We would like to live in Russia, but the problem is the regime and its policies.”
Since her return, Anna has been very sad that life just goes on for the people of Russia. “I feel like I’m in a movie where everyone just pretends everything is normal. For me it is sometimes very difficult and very sad to see how things change for the worse,” she laments. Anna gives herself a year to leave Russia again. She wants to either go to Berlin or Bali.
Kira is also thinking about where to go next time. Their considerations include the USA, Canada, Great Britain and Germany.